Glasgow Gallivanting: January 2018

Mine Woods Walk

Hello, and welcome to Year 2 of my monthly Glasgow Gallivanting posts! January has been busy for various reasons, most of them not particularly photogenic, but we did get one lovely walk on a Sunday afternoon – even if it wasn’t the one we set out for. We wanted to climb a little hill called Dumyat in Stirlingshire (Doo-my-at and not, as I used to think, Dum-yat), but all roads leading there were closed. Instead, we walked through Mine Woods above the pretty little spa town of Bridge of Allan. Even though we weren’t as high up, the views were still great as you can see above.

25 years ago.

We had an anniversary this month: in January 1993 we moved into our current house. I’ve worked out that in my 60 years I’ve had 18 addresses in 10 different towns or cities, so this is quite a big deal. Once we’d unpacked, we took a lot of photos in our new house, and here are a couple with 2018 recreations.

So, I’m older, heavier, greyer and I can’t see without my glasses now, but there’s one thing that’s the same about me in these pictures. Enlarge, and you might spot what it is. Answer at the end!

The Suffragette Oak

I’ve posted several times about Glasgow’s Suffragette Oak, the last time in November (first picture) when I reported the sad news that it had been damaged by Storm Ophelia. The second picture shows what it looks like now. As well as the tear on the trunk, around 30% of the canopy was lost and to make the tree safe the council had to reduce its height and rebalance it. Its health will be closely monitored and some of the offcuts have been given to Glasgow Women’s Library to make commemorative items. We still hope it will survive in this, its centenary year. (The first women in the UK got the vote in February 1918.)

What about the women?

Maryhill Burgh Halls, where I volunteer as a Heritage Tour Guide, currently has an exhibition of old photographs of Glasgow accompanied by a series of events, one of which is me talking about women’s history in Glasgow. I’ve been busy this month working out what I want to say – then cutting it down drastically – and creating a slide-show. The tickets sold out a couple of weeks ago (only 40, but still) and so I’m repeating it two weeks later. Eep! No pressure, no pressure at all. I’ll let you know next month how it goes.

The last bit

Did you spot the common factor in the 1993 and 2018 pictures of me? It’s the ear-rings! This was entirely unintentional. Just after we moved into the house, John went to a conference in Freiburg and brought them back as a gift (I have a fine collection of ear-rings from all over the world as a result of his travels). On the day we took the new photos I chose them because they reflected the diamond shapes on my top, and I only realised when I looked at the old photos again that I was wearing the same pair!

Finally, here’s a short (1 minute) promotional video about Glasgow which I think sums it up really well. You might even recognise some of the places from my blog!

Isn’t Glasgow braw? That’s my Scottish word for this month – it means beautiful. I hope you agree.

So those were some of the things that have kept me busy in January. How has your month been?

A weekend with kelpies and old books

Another lovely weekend in Central Scotland meant I could cross off two more items on my summer “must visit” list. The Kelpies are the latest large-scale public art installations by sculptor Andy Scott. Sitting next to the Forth and Clyde Canal in Helix Park, Falkirk, the two horses’ heads tower over 26 metres high – they’re not just art, they represent a massive engineering achievement too. If you’re wondering what a kelpie is, it’s a mythical water-being inhabiting the lochs and pools of Scotland which usually appears as a horse, but is able to adopt human form. Scott modelled his sculptures on two real-life Clydesdales in honour of the horses which used to pull the barges along the canal, so they might be mythical, but they’re also very real.

We chose to take a tour which meant we were able to go inside one of the heads (Duke, the one looking down, the other is Baron) and learn more about how they were made. They have 928 plates which took 130 days to construct on site using over 300 tons of steel. Awesome!

A word of warning about Helix Park itself – the facilities are awful. We got there just after 11am and were able to park, but from then on there was a constant queue of cars looking unsuccessfully for spaces. The advice given is to use overflow parking at the Falkirk Stadium, but that’s at least a 20 minute walk from the Kelpies, so if you’ve booked a tour you might well miss it – and if there’s a football match there, presumably you can’t use it anyway. The café is also about 15 minutes away, and when we got there just after 1pm they had no lunch left, just crisps and snacks. This is a fairly new attraction, so maybe they will get their act together soon, and I guess it’s good news in one way if more people than they expected turn up. A Visitor Centre is under construction and I assume it will have extra catering, but they need to sort the parking problems too.

Saturday was our last chance to catch Dunblane’s Leighton Library – it’s only open during the summer and we don’t have another weekend free before it closes at the end of September. This is the oldest purpose-built private library in Scotland, opening in 1687 as the result of a bequest by Robert Leighton. He had been Bishop of Dunblane from 1661 to 1670 and wanted to leave his books for the benefit of the clergy of the diocese. His own collection of around 1400 volumes eventually grew to over 4000 – all are held on the first floor, with the lower storey originally being living quarters for the librarian. From 1734 to about 1840 it functioned as a lending library, until the growth of public libraries rendered it obsolete. Despite the worthy nature of most of the tomes, the most borrowed book was a novel – Zeluco (1789) by Scottish author John Moore, which relates the vicious deeds of the eponymous anti-hero, the evil Italian nobleman Zeluco. Another novel, The cottagers of Glenburnie by Stirling author Elizabeth Hamilton, was so popular that it went missing. Now why does that sound a familiar tale? It happened regularly in every library I’ve ever worked in, that’s why!

Dunblane Museum is also worth a look – it too only opens summer hours and was closed on our last visit in December. For more on the town and its year-round attractions, such as the Cathedral, see my previous post Scottish snapshots: Dunblane.

Stirling: where we stayed and where we ate

We’ve just spent two nights at the Stirling Highland Hotel. This was built in the 1850s as the city’s High School and didn’t become a hotel until the 1990s so, although the building is historic, the rooms and facilities are modern and comfortable. The location is excellent – at the bottom of the hill leading up to the Castle – and it has reasonable parking, which is not common in Stirling. The school connection is maintained in the names of the restaurant (Scholar’s) and bar (the Headmaster’s Study). We only used the former for breakfast – it’s a buffet, but I discovered on the second day that veggie sausages were available on request, which pleased me greatly. We had lunch in the bar the day we arrived – we were the only people there, and because the surroundings were so cosy we felt very much at home. However, it was quite pricy for what we had – ok, you’ve spotted the wine I’m sure, but even so £33 seemed a lot for that, a sandwich, a baked potato and two coffees. Overall, though, we were happy with our choice of hotel and would probably go back if we stayed in Stirling again.

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I was really keen to have a curry on our first night, especially after checking Trip Advisor and finding that an Indian restaurant was number one in Stirling.

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Green Gates was untypical both in decor (a converted Georgian townhouse) and menu, which was quite short. However, everything was freshly cooked to order and, because dishes came in two sizes, you could order several small ones and sample a good variety. It was all delicious, but the stand out for us was Punjabi Channa Mushroom Masala which was exquisitely spiced. Service was slow to start with – our starters took a while to arrive – but was always friendly and picked up speed later. Value was excellent – two starters, three small mains, one dessert and four beers for about £45. I would definitely come back here.

The second night, we decided to eat Italian. Mamma Mia was directly opposite the hotel and, as it was pouring with rain, we decided to look no further. It was a friendly place, the interior looked very like a genuine neighbourhood restaurant in Italy, and the food (the Christmas menu at £27.95 for three courses) was excellent. After a bottle of wine and complimentary limoncellos with the bill, we didn’t have to worry about having too far to stagger home to bed either.

Stirling is a great place for a short break. There’s a lot to do, especially if you’re interested in history, which we knew already. However, because it’s somewhere we would normally go on a day trip we didn’t know much about the restaurants available, but there seems to be a good range and plenty more places I would like to try on future visits.

Visiting Braveheart: the Wallace Monument

While staying in Stirling, we took a walk out to the Wallace Monument following the route from inStirling.com. NB If anyone else decides to do this, note that it’s mainly paved, but the paths up to Abbey Craig are very muddy and slippery; also the instructions about crossing the railway are out of date – ignore the reference to an overgrown path which no longer exists, and just keep going on the road.

Before you get to the monument, you can view what remains of Cambuskenneth Abbey (from behind a fence at the moment, because it’s only open in summer.) Parliament was held here after the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 and James III is buried here so it’s of considerable historic significance.

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Soon after leaving the Abbey, Abbey Craig, crowned by the monument, comes into view.

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The monument was built by public subscription and opened in 1869 – after costing twice the original estimate. Nothing changes there, does it? It’s 220 feet tall and, with a narrow spiral staircase of 246 steps, it’s not for the unfit or the claustrophobic. Fortunately, there are three viewing galleries on the way up where you can stop to catch your breath. The first floor tells William Wallace’s life story, the second concentrates on other Scottish heroes and the third documents the building of the monument. The fourth level is the Crown where you get spectacular views over the meandering River Forth to Stirling from one side, and of the Ochil Hills from the other. Here is pictorial proof that we both made it to the top.

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We walked back by a more direct route along a main road, crossing the Forth back into town at the site of the Battle of Stirling Bridge.

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The whole excursion, including a stop in the Legends Coffee House at the Visitor Centre, which does snacks such as toasties and panini, took about five hours. Fresh air, exercise and a bit of culture – and we only got rained on twice. What more could we ask?

Stirling Castle at dusk

The last time we visited Stirling Castle (Historic Scotland) was a sunny, autumn day in 2011 and the pictures in the blogpost I wrote then reflected that. After arriving in Stirling for a short break between Christmas and New Year, we nipped up for a quick visit in the late afternoon and found the castle looking equally stunning, but with a totally different atmosphere as dusk changed to darkness. We visited:

The Palace

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The Great Hall

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The Chapel Royal

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The Great Kitchens

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By the time we left, when the castle closed at 5pm, it was completely dark. This is the other side of the Great Hall taken from the Grand Battery.

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Finally, on our way back down the hill we spotted these lovely Christmas lights designed by children.

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Stirling is less than an hour away from where we live, so it’s wonderful to be able to see it at different times of year. Normally, we’d be back on the motorway to Glasgow by 5pm, so it was an added bonus to see it at this beautiful time of day.

Stirling Castle

Robert the Bruce stands guard over Stirling Castle:

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We’ve visited Stirling Castle many times in the past, but not since the newly refurbished Royal Palace opened this summer. The beauty of being a Historic Scotland member is that you can go in free and just visit the parts you want, rather than feeling you have to go over the whole thing every time to get your £13 worth, so a few Sundays ago we set off to see the Palace.

The highlight is the ceiling with the brightly painted Stirling Heads, shown below. These are replicas, but you can see the remaining originals in the Stirling Heads Gallery:

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Other highlights of the castle are the ochre-harled Great Hall which can be seen for miles around:

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And the gargoyles:

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An unexpected bonus was that you can now have a free tour of Argyll’s Lodging, the 17th century townhouse just down from the Castle, which we had also not visited before:

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Finally, where to eat? The Castle has a nice café, but we usually opt for the Portcullis Hotel, just down the hill, which was built in 1787 as a boys’ school. Their lunches are substantial and good value. My stuffed peppers with salad also included a disc of breaded mozzarella and chips, neither of which had been mentioned on the menu.

Stirling is recommended as a lovely day out.